In Council News, Jamie Gauthier, Kendra Brooks, News by Jamie Gauthier

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PHILADELPHIA – In response to the shooting of 35-year-old Angel Davis by a private contractor who was serving an eviction notice last week, Councilmembers Kendra Brooks (At-Large) and Jamie Gauthier (3rd District) announced a public hearing of the Housing Committee on the Landlord-Tenant Office.

The hearing, which is scheduled for May 8, will examine the role of the Landlord-Tenant Officer, responsible for enforcing evictions and conducting on-site lockouts of residents, and present widespread concerns about lack of oversight, training, ethics guidelines, and public accountability.

In Philadelphia, the Municipal Court outsources the work of conducting evictions to an attorney at a private law office, who is known as the Landlord Tenant Officer. The officer hires private armed contractors to evict people from their homes, often with little or no notice, and collects millions of dollars in fees.

“I’ve expressed serious concerns about the Landlord-Tenant Office for years,” said Councilmember Kendra Brooks. “This shooting is the most extreme outcome of a system that regularly surprises people at their door with an armed eviction, often with little to no warning. Last week’s tragedy is the result of an unaccountable, for-profit system that traumatizes and exploits renters across the city.”

In 2020, Councilmembers Kendra Brooks and Jamie Gauthier co-sponsored a resolution introduced by former Councilmember Helen Gym (At-Large) to hold hearings on the Landlord-Tenant Office. The resolution, which passed, is the necessary precursor to holding hearings.

The problems with Philadelphia’s eviction process are well-documented. Reports have recorded overwhelming dysfunction, including frequent failures to notify residents before evicting them, use of excessive force, lack of transparency and oversight, and allegations of nepotism and conflicts of interest.

“I am outraged by last week’s shooting incident involving a Deputy Landlord-Tenant Officer,” said Councilmember Jamie Gauthier. “Evictions are economic violence, and we cannot stand idly by while they become physically violent too! I am proud that City Council has taken historic steps in recent years to significantly reduce the harms caused by evictions. It is time to continue this work by outlawing private eviction enforcement. No one should profit from such a traumatic event, especially one that we know disproportionately impacts Black and brown residents.

In most Pennsylvania municipalities, eviction notices are served by public officials, not private contractors. Last week, State Senator Nikil Saval and State Senator Sharif Street announced legislation prohibiting the use of private contractors in enforcing evictions.

“The forced removal of a person from their home is a solemn and severe event that requires the utmost care and sensitivity,” said State Senator Nikil Saval. “Evictions are violent, dangerous, destabilizing events—for the household and for the surrounding community. They should be handled by public officials with proper training and democratic oversight. I applaud my colleagues in City Council for investigating the role of the for-profit Landlord-Tenant Officer.”

Councilmember Kendra Brooks has been a driving force in transforming housing policy in Philadelphia. In addition to the hearing announced today, she recently hosted a hearing on rent control and has advocated for increased funding to provide counsel for residents facing eviction.  In 2021, she introduced and passed the Renters’ Access Act, which prohibits landlords from discriminating against applicants based on a record of former evictions.

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